A preamplifier (preamp) is an electronic amplifier that prepares a small electrical signal for further amplification or processing. A preamplifier is often placed close to the sensor to reduce the effects of noise and interference. It is used to boost the signal strength to drive the cable to the main instrument without significantly degrading the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). The noise performance of a preamplifier is critical. According to Friis's formula, when the gain of the preamplifier is high, the SNR of the final signal is determined by the SNR of the input signal and the noise figure of the preamplifier.
In a home audio system, the term 'preamplifier' may sometimes be used to describe equipment which merely switches between different line level sources and applies a volume control, so that no actual amplification may be involved. In an audio system, the second amplifier is typically a power amplifier (power amp). The preamplifier provides voltage gain (e.g., from 10 mV to 1 V) but no significant current gain. The power amplifier provides the higher current necessary to drive loudspeakers.
Preamplifiers may be:
- incorporated into the housing or chassis of the amplifier they feed
- in a separate housing
- mounted within or near the signal source, such as a turntable, microphone or musical instrument.
Three basic types of preamplifiers are available:
- The integrated pre-amplifier in a foil electret microphone.
- The first stages of an instrument amplifier, which is then sent to the power amplifier. With instrument amplifiers, the preamp is often designed to produce overdrive or distortion effects.
- A stand-alone unit for use in live music and recording studio applications.
- As part of a stand-alone channel strip or channel strip built into an audio mixing desk.
- A masthead amplifier used with television receiver antenna or a satellite receiver dish.
- The circuit inside of a hard drive connected to the magnetic heads or the circuit inside of CD/DVD drive which connects to the photodiodes.
- A switched capacitor circuit used to null the effects of mismatch offset in most CMOS comparator-based flash analog-to-digital converters